History is filled with stories of border wars, ranging from one country invading another to neighbors putting a fence or structure on an adjacent property. Regardless of the parcel size and stakes involved, any perceived encroachment can be a source of anger and annoyance and even lead to a years-long feud or lawsuit. An encroachment can also be a threat to title.
Rather than waging open conflict over property lines, property owners often find it best and more sensible to work with an attorney. They can help resolve a property line dispute, whether intentional encroachment or confusion over the borderline.
Legal options for addressing disputes
Every dispute should start with a discussion between neighbors to determine the next steps if needed. There are several legal options for resolving property line disputes. Some are amicable, and some are more contentious:
- Review a title search: Homeowners typically will purchase a title insurance policy. The policy as well as the property description in the deed should be reviewed to determine the property lines, identify easements that allow usage by others, and determine coverage.
- Consult your survey: Buyers also should consult the survey of the property. Many times survey markers will be in place. Once you are more certain of the property lines, you can evaluate what you believe to be an encroachment.
- Reach an accord on boundary lines: The neighbors may be able to agree on where exactly the boundary line is. Both sides must then sign a quitclaim deed or a cross-easement agreement, which recognizes the ownership of each landowner.
- Adverse possession: Sometimes, a property may be abandoned or not maintained for extended periods. Someone else can then come in (with or without the knowledge of the owner) and use the land as if it is legally theirs and take adverse possession under certain circumstances.
- Quiet title litigation: Less aggressive than traditional litigation, the property owners take a border dispute to court and have the judge determine a solution. It can also clear up any outstanding liens on the property or administrative errors that led to the conflict.
- Ejectment Litigation: If you believe that you can establish an encroachment and your neighbor will not remove it or you cannot come to an agreement, it may be necessary to file an action in ejectment.
Legal solutions are the best solutions
It is important to consult an experienced real estate lawyer who can help you navigate how best to address a property line or boundary dispute.